Sandra Bernhard began her career in LA’s “Comedy Store” in the 1970’s. Since then her career has skyrocketed, and she has continued to “wow” her audiences with her very own unique brand of stand-up comedy, as well as her acting, singing and writing talents.
She starred in such major films as “King of Comedy,” “Hudson Hawk” and “Wrongfully Accused.” Her vast television credits include “Will and Grace,” “Switched at Birth,” “The L Word,” “Late Night with David Letterman” (where she appeared more than 30 times), “The Neighbors,” Logo’s “DTLA,” NBC’s “Crossing Jordan,” “Hot in Cleveland,” Fox TV’s “American Dad” and of course “ROSEANNE,” where she portrayed, Nancy Bartlett, the first openly gay character on a network sitcom.
Berhard has also appeared on Broadway in “I’m Still Here…Damn It” and “Everything Bad and Beautiful.” Most recently her show “I Love Being Me, Don’t You?” played in LA to sold-out crowds.
You’re about to appear at The Suffolk Theater in Riverhead on Friday, July 18 (8 p.m.) for the Hamptons’ LGBT Comedy Festival, in a one-of-a-kind, one-woman show titled “Sandyland.” Can you give us a hint of what’s in store for your audience?
Things that have been fun for me through the years, from cabaret to stand-up, rock ‘n’ roll, theater, my original writing and some of my original songs, some cover songs, kind of blended together to become a post-modern one-woman musical.
How long will the show be?
At least an hour and a half.
Now, you’re touring nationally in certain cities throughout the country…
Well, yeah, as a performer I’m always off and on the road. It’s not like a formal tour, like an album release, although I’ve done that too, but you
know it’s sort of a mainstay of my career to be on the road at least two times a month and do dates around the country and abroad. It’s all very interesting.
Do you think you might make it to Fire Island this summer?
Yeah, I think actually someone is working on that for me right now. So it might happen.
I understand that you will be appearing on FX’s new comedy series premiering July 17 called “You’re the Worst.”
Shot that last week.
You’re portraying yourself?
Yeah, but you know, I’ve played myself before, but it’s a sort of fictionalized version of myself.
You’ve played yourself in several roles as you said. Is it more challenging playing yourself?
No. I mean, I’m doing an acting role, and it’s always “acting” no matter if it’s a version of me or the character that they’ve written. It’s always a different level of who you are and what elements you bring to the character.
If I list everything you’ve appeared in or accomplished, I would be here all day, but many have said that your role in “King of Comedy” was one of the best acting roles they have ever seen.
That’s nice to hear. It was a “break out” role for anybody who was going to get it, but obviously I was the fortunate one to get the role. I think I brought a lot to it of myself at that time, especially as young as I was then. Stylistically I brought something unique to it for sure.
What was it like working with Jerry Lewis and Robert De Niro?
Oh, it was “fantastic.” It was a formative experience, one of those experiences you take with you your whole career. It’s always great to look back on, and you know, you see these people over the years and you know it’s just a great basis for your acting career, and you can’t get much better than that.
I see you as the 4th of July fireworks, the colors of the rainbow flag, Joan Rivers, the Lady Gaga of comedy, Diana Ross, Gypsy Rose Lee and Mick Jagger all rolled into one. What inspires you when you wake up in the morning?
So many things. It’s all over the place. Of course right now it’s Wimbledon. I was totally upset that the Williams sisters were out. I was heartbroken the other day when Serena lost to the French chick. They’re my two biggest inspirations in life. Their stories are so compelling and they’ve done so much for equality for women, women of color. Those are surprising things that people don’t know about me. I really like people that excel in different arenas.
You’re into fashion…
Yeah, I’ve always been into fashion.
What do you see in the future for fashion?
There’s only so much you can do. I mean, you’re not going to suddenly be, like, wearing tunics. In a movie predicting what the future is going to be like…but you know it’s not going to happen. People like to wear jeans, and there’s always a different style of jeans. Dresses are dresses.Of course there are innovative designers, but there are only so many variations.
Is there any life-long fantasy you haven’t lived out?
I’m working on different television projects that I’ll be pitching this summer. I’d like to be back doing films and great roles. Things are sort of coming around for my acting, so I’m really happy about that. Outside of travel and places I like to go, there’s nothing other than keeping my career going and raising a smart, thoughtful daughter. That matters to me right now.
Raising a daughter with a full-time career such as yours, how do you juggle that?
I’m very fortunate. I have a girlfriend of 15 years. We’ve both parented my daughter. I’m just really lucky in that way. She’s there holding down the fort when I’m out on the road doing my project, and she’s a writer, so that really works out.
How has your life been different than you imagined it?
In ways it’s sort of what I fantasized. In ways it’s more exciting. I really, really never thought I would end up having a kid, which has been amazing, super fulfilling and wonderful. So that’s probably the wildcard that I’ve accomplished in my life other than my career. I mean, you never know what direction your career is going to go. I’m certainly very satisfied with it creatively.
While you were growing up, when did you realize you were so talented?
I don’t think as a kid you realize you had talent, but I think as a kid you realize that you love what you are doing. Since I was five years old and conscious, I knew that I’d be a performer. It’s something I sort of came into this life knowing and I’ve managed to fulfill.
What’s your worst quality?
Worst quality? I think over the years it’s been impatience, but I think I’ve tackled it and managed to get it under control.
What were your most memorable moments with Madonna?
That is really something I don’t talk about anymore – who really cares at this point. I’ve had a lot of friendships, people that I don’t hang out with anymore. You know, you wish everybody well and move on.
Anything more that you wish to promote that we don’t know about?
No. I’m glad you asked me about the TV thing, focusing on the Suffolk date, making sure it’s a successful, wonderful date. Every market you go into, especially when it’s not big like NYC or San Francisco or Chicago, you want people to know you’re there. So that’s really important to me. You got in there and do the best you can.
Sandra Bernhard appears at Suffolk Theater,
118 East Main Street in Riverhead, New York, on Friday, July 18, at 8 p.m. as part of the Hamptons’ LGBT Comedy Festival called “Sandyland.” Watch for her upcoming guest role on FX’s new comedy show, “You’re the Worst.”
Sandra Bernhard Photos by Kevin Thomas Garcia